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EE 4G LTE network: First impressions

Today EE switched on the UK’s first 4G LTE network (opens in new tab), providing high-speed data for suitably equipped smartphones, tablets and dongles. The new network will initially be available in 11 cities across the UK, with four more scheduled before Christmas. We’ve waited a long time for 4G in the UK, so the big question is whether it was worth the wait.

EE sent me over some choice 4G kit this morning, so I’ve been using the new network for most of the day, and I have to say that it’s pretty impressive. I set up the Huawei E589 Mobile Wi-Fi device, then disconnected my laptop from the office Wi-Fi and paired it with the Huawei.

Incredibly, the speeds I got over 4G far outstripped the office Wi-Fi – we’ve got 20mbps fibre, but that’s obviously shared between all the staff. On top of that, the Wi-Fi itself is quite heavily loaded, with everyone’s phones connected, not to mention multiple laptops.

The office connection gives me around 6.5mbps down and 7mbps up – nothing to write home about, but pretty much par for the course given the environment and number of users. Switching to EE 4G resulted in around 22mbps for both downloads and uploads, or about three times faster than your average ADSL home connection.

In use, I couldn’t fault EE’s network. Obviously general web usage was no problem at all – email, browsing, instant messenger, twitter etc. But even heavy duty network usage didn’t prove a problem – music streaming was flawless, and so was 1080p high definition video, you really could use Netflix, Sky Go or any other on-demand video service on the go with EE as your partner.

Of course that super-fast cellular speed doesn’t come cheap, and if you’re thinking relying on a 4G Mobile Wi-Fi device like this one, or tethering your mobile phone on a daily basis, you’ll have to keep an eye on data usage. There’s no unlimited data package on offer, with 8GB being the top plan, and with the speeds available you could easily burn through most plans in a matter of days.

However, if you use your data sensibly – switch to Wi-Fi at home and when you’re in the office, you’ll be able to save on data usage. I was surprised to find that I’d used only 1GB of cellular data since the beginning of August, but then my phone’s on Wi-Fi for most of the day at least five days a week.

That said, I think I’d find myself tempted to use more data when I’m out and about if I was on 4G, simply because it’s so fast, there’s really nothing I can’t do when I’m mobile – including streaming high-quality video while I’m on the train to work.

The Huawei E589 comes free on a £25.99, 5GB per month contract. By comparison, the Three MiFi 3G is yours for £23.99 per month, with 15GB of bundled data. But it’s a somewhat unfair comparison, because the EE 4G experience is every bit as good as your home or office broadband is likely to be, and only you can decide whether that kind of speed is worth paying for.

As well as the Huawei E589, EE also sent me a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 LTE, which I’ll be playing with over the next few days. If you’ve read Stuart’s review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (opens in new tab), you’ll already know that it’s a pretty special handset, but from my short time so far with the LTE version, I can assure you that it’s even better on EE.

Riyad has been entrenched in technology publishing for more years than he cares to remember, having staffed and edited some of the largest and most successful IT magazines in the UK. In 2003 he joined forces with Hugh Chappell to create They built TR into the UK’s market leading technology publication before selling the title to IPC Media / Time Warner in 2007. As Editorial Director at Net Communities, Riyad will be helping to develop the publishing portfolio, making IT Pro Portal the best publication it can be.